What does it take to be an international sporting superstar and Commonwealth Games Gold Medallist? Skill, stamina, unfaltering nerve, confidence, drive, passion and of course, when opportunity knocks, you answer with a resounding YES.
Like all the women we feature in Manner, Serena Guthrie is a powerhouse, despite once being told she was too short to play defence, at 5ft 10inches tall! We tip our hat to Serena’s outlook, at the recent Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, Guthrie had to be carried off court by England Captain, Ama Agbeze after rolling her ankle on the opening day. Her upbeat and positive response, “It’s all good…” It was indeed, as the mighty Roses beat Australia and won gold at the event.
Our spring edition cover girl, Gemma Dawkins went along to chat to former Le Rocquier student and international netball golden girl to find out what it takes to turn pro.
From one Commonwealth Games sports person to another, I was thrilled to catch up with my old training partner, Serena Guthrie. It was exciting to hear all about her journey from Jersey to the worldwide sporting stage. Talking about how she got into netball in the first place, Serena explained that she was motivated by the need to bolster her extracurricular activities. Her passion for netball wasn’t immediately obvious; it was just another activity in amongst an array of other sports that she enjoyed.
Out of all the sports’ careers to pursue, why choose netball?
“I was doing it along with athletics and hockey, I really liked the challenge of netball… especially as I didn’t feel I was actually very good at it in comparison to other sports! I was actually better at football and could have had opportunities there. I didn’t really understand the rules of netball and would literally just run and shoot! It turned out that netball was also a really good way to make new friends, then whilst I was playing for my school team Linda Andrews scouted me and asked me to trial for under 11s and that set me off on my path with Convent Youth Squad. I loved the challenge and relished the opportunity. As soon as I was 16, I jumped at the chance to play for Convent and play in an England youth under 17’s tournament - it was here that it all started really happening for me.
I basically decided to say yes to everything that came my way and not long after I was asked to trial for the England team. I didn’t get it, but the following year I went back and succeeded. I was asked if I’d like to study and train in Bath: again, a big yes from me. My mum said that I had to finish my GCSE’s before I could go, so I studied hard and played netball and did my athletics. Over that summer I got myself a job to save money and then moved over to Bath to start my adventure!”
The jump from Jersey to the UK acts like a trajectory point when you’re aiming high in sports (or any other pursuit!). How did moving to the UK change your perspective on your sport?
“In Bath I studied for my A-Levels: Geography, psychology and PE and after that I went off to Uni to study Geography. I don’t think I’d have done that had I not already left Jersey - leaving the island spurred me on to go off to Uni as I wasn’t the brightest in school. Uni was also another opportunity for me to play netball and whilst playing at Bath, I really learned what it was like to be in a high performance programme. I started to get a much better understanding of how to eat, how to stretch and I learned more about strength and was able to refine my technique.
"I actually hated it at first… In Jersey I’d been lucky to just be active and free to go on the beach, rock climbing etc. - I wasn’t used to the structure and seriousness. I’d never really focussed on fitness specific to my performance, so I suppose this was an all important time for me.”
It's interesting that you went to Uni to study Geography. I know when I was applying to go to Uni, everyone presumed I was going to study Sport and I would be like 'nah I just like to play it I don’t want to study it!’
“That’s the same as me! I always wanted to have something different as well as sports… It’s not like I grew up wanting to be an England netballer, I didn’t really think of it as an opportunity back then! I’ve also done my Diving qualifications and a business course and like to keep my mind open for new opportunities. Of course, having other interests and qualifications also makes me feel less scared about retirement from sport.”
Yeah, I guess you don’t want to be pigeon holed either! I kind of got branded, ‘Gemma the Runner’ are you kind of, ‘Serena the Netballer’?
“This is why I don’t let it be an issue. I think people always get labelled, whether it’s, ‘Dave the Accountant’ or ‘Tom the Lawyer’… Serena the Netballer - it’s ok at the time but you can’t be consumed by one thing because then you might miss out on other skills or opportunities! I like to think you can always add to your repertoire whilst being a netballer, or anything else.
"I like to feel prepared and excited for change and progress. I also make sure I don’t get caught up in media opinion of me - you get good press and bad press. Over time experience gives you the tools to handle these things. I like change and if I feel I need some, or if I feel the need to do something other than netball, I do it! I’ve been travelling, I’ve taken time out and I have studied other things and developed other skills - all of this has helped me realise who I am.”
What do you find most interesting about the difference in living somewhere big compared to somewhere like Jersey?
"I think it's a huge change moving from an island to a city in a big country. Even now, living in Sydney all these years later, the size is massive. It’s scary when you first move, no matter where you’re going to. Coming from a small community, you can somewhat take all the little things for granted, the islander community support network for instance. When you first leave, it can seem like that’s gone and you can feel a bit on your own, but it’s a great learning experience and everyone should get off the island at some point or another!”
And now you’re living in Sydney? What did it feel like competing in the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast, did it feel like you were in your home town?
“One good thing about living and competing out here is the crowds, people really are engaged by the sport and because the interest in netball over here is bigger, it is completely different to England. The Gold Coast Games was brilliant with an exciting atmosphere. I’d also played in that stadium before and after playing out here a while, I’m used to the standard and what’s expected of us to win.”
So, the nail-biting game at this year’s Commonwealth Games, how did it feel when the whistle blew, and you knew you had won?
“Gosh I still don’t know how I felt! I pulled myself out the game two minutes before the end because my body literally couldn’t give anymore, I had done and given it my all. When we won I generally couldn’t believe it. To play out in Australia and win against Australia, well I just couldn’t believe it because they were the clear favourites. It really was amazing. Such a good moment, one that still gives me goosebumps.”
What would you say has been your biggest setback so far in your career?
“Ultimately, I think my setbacks have always encouraged me to set up future successes. Feeling upset at not being picked for 2010 Commonwealth Games felt like the first set back for me. I have found that, since then I tend to train harder, get stronger and move forward.
"When we lost by one in the Glasgow Games it was heart-breaking but you end up realising that you can lose, we all can. After a loss you can feel defeated, or you can mentally prepare to aim not to feel like that again! Once you get rid of the fear about losing, you actually get stronger. The minute that you understand that and let go of your fake belief and all that hype and just go out there and focus on the process and all you can do then!”
What advice would you give other people?
“The lessons I’ve learned in sport can be transferred to all aspects of life. Important lessons such as discipline, winning and losing and how to cope with those things have all come from my experiences in sport.”
So how many years have you got left in the game?
“I’m going to hang up my shoes next year. It’ll be time to focus on creating something which gives back to sports and younger people. A holistic coaching brand that encourages kids to be better netballers and better people in general! My profile is helping get these dreams off the ground, but my profile won’t be the reason it’s successful. It won’t be about me, it’ll be a brand for others to get involved and share their love for the sports and lessons in life.”